Service Learning: An Integrative Field Study Model

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article will outline two nontraditional student service-learning field study-consulting projects. Both of these experiences involved graduate business students, who had previously received instruction on how to analyze organizations, markets, and economic forces employing both macro and micro models and methodologies. Benefits to students as well as the challenges and difficulties of such experiences will be discussed and comparisons made to similar types of experiences in the literature. From such experiences it is evident that service learning as an integrative field study can also be a powerful capstone-like learning opportunity for students when coupled with a reflective evaluation component.

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Service-Learning courses have become increasingly popular on campuses today, with some college and universities beginning to require students to complete a certain number of such courses before becoming eligible to graduate. Students seeking such opportunities would more than likely find a growing array of designated service-learning courses at their institutions, whether they are small community colleges, or large public universities. More and more academic disciplines have become involved in promoting experiential learning pedagogies in the classroom, embracing the notion that students learn most effectively when they can actively engage in "hands-on" concrete knowledge application (Stewart, 1996). Over the past several years, educators have developed explicit models for faculty to ensure that they have constructed an effective service-learning pedagogy. (Honnet, & Poulsen, 1989) But must service-learning experiences follow the traditional faculty-directed, course-based model to be effective?

Mexico City Service-Learning Immersion Project

A team of 5 MBA students from Brigham Young University volunteered to participate in an intensive 7-week consulting project in Mexico City. The BYU Marriott Business School had been approached by several Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints leaders to explore ways in which some students could help with their member employment efforts in Mexico City. The dilemma facing the Church in Mexico was the increasing numbers of unemployed members who either lacked the skills or the opportunities to get placed in "stable" employment positions, enabling them to sustain themselves and their families and thereby contribute more effectively to the explosive growth the LDS Church was facing in Mexico.

Once it was determined that the project would involve an extended stay (7 weeks) in Mexico City, a cross-disciplinary team of students was formed from finance, marketing, information systems, and organizational theory emphases to provide a balance of multiple perspectives to the team. Since the timing of the project occurred after most of the 2nd year of the graduate program when MBA students had completed all of their coursework and were preparing to graduate and seek full-time employment, it was evident that this experience would not readily fit within the normal curriculum parameters. Further, since volunteering for the project would mean that a student would either have to postpone the job search or delay an acceptance of a job offer, it was determined that the School would cover all travel, food and lodging expenses for the duration of the project through July. This author served as the director of the project and helped to set the project parameters and initiate contacts in Mexico City through the formal channels of the business school. The author also spent the first week with the students in Mexico getting them established and organized as well as holding introductory meetings with business, LDS Church, and government contacts.

It was clear at the outset that this was an "emergent consulting experience" that would unfold as the students began their initial environmental scan which included preliminary meetings and interviews, and a demographic survey of the unemployed LDS member applicants. …